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'A Better Man,' by Louise Penny.

'A Better Man,' by Louise Penny. (Minotaur Books/TNS)

"A Better Man" by Louise Penny; Minotaur Books (448 pages, $28.99)

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Armande Gamache returns as a high-ranking member of the Canadian Surete, this time humbled by a demotion from chief inspector to head of homicide due to events in the most recent two books of this richly told Canadian crime series.

But no one can humble the deeply principled Gamache more thoroughly than he humbles himself. Infused with self-disappointment after a drug raid gone bad, he's being harangued on social media as a coward and a failure as he reassumes control of a detective team he long ago trained.

His pride keeps him intact as he tries to rally his officers around menacing floodwaters that could break river levees protecting the great city of Montreal and its suburbs. Even the quirky residents of Three Pines, Gamache's beloved home village, are furiously sandbagging to hold off the rising river. It's a fitting metaphor for what Gamache is going through.

Tensions build from all corners. Gamache's daughter Annie and his loyal protege Jean-Guy Beauvoir, Annie's husband, are moving to Paris in a few days with Gamache's grandchild to escape the violence and disillusionment of police work, a decision that has ripped Gamache apart. And an unexpected death rocks the village of Three Pines amid the chaos of the encroaching floods. The death touches Gamache close to home, playing on all his fears and insecurities as the social media scavengers trash his career with lies.

Penny's lyrical writing opens up Gamache's soul-searching in an almost poetic way. "A Better Man," it turns out, isn't so much a novel to wrap up certain story lines in this 14-book series, but one to breathe new life into them.

Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com

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